Spain's PM ups pressure on Blair: 'You can't organise a war with lies'

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The Independent Online

Spain's incoming Socialist Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the unexpected victor in Sunday's general election, launched a withering attack on Tony Blair and George Bush yesterday over their decision to go to war in Iraq.

Spain's incoming Socialist Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the unexpected victor in Sunday's general election, launched a withering attack on Tony Blair and George Bush yesterday over their decision to go to war in Iraq.

Announcing that the 1,300 Spanish troops currently stationed in Iraq would be pulled out by the summer, the quietly spoken leader declared: "You can't organise a war with lies.

"Mr Blair and Mr Bush must do some reflection and self-criticism," he added in remarkably frank comments for the next prime minister of Europe's youngest democracy and fifth largest economy.

Mr Zapatero was speaking a day after his Socialist Workers' Party's surprise election victory over the ruling Popular Party, which under the leadership of Jose Maria Aznar had strongly supported the war in Iraq.

He told Spanish radio his triumph was a consequence of the conflict's unpopularity with voters. But a more immediate explanation for the swing was last Thursday's bomb attacks on Madrid which left 200 people dead. The Government initially attempted to blame the Basque separatist group, Eta, for the atrocity. When it became apparent that groups affiliated to al-Qa'ida were almost certainly responsible, many Spaniards used the ballot to vent their anger at the Government's support for the war, which they blamed for making the country a target of Islamic terrorists.

In another blow to the British Government, Mr Zapatero also promised to relaunch his country's policy of co-operation with Europe, turning his back on Mr Blair's attempt to establish an alternative sphere of influence in the EU.

"Military intervention in Iraq was a political mistake," Mr Zapatero said yesterday. "It divided more than it united, there were no reasons for it. Time has shown that the arguments for it lacked credibility. You cannot bomb by chance."

Downing Street and the White House avoided commenting on Mr Zapatero's attacks, focusing instead in the need to co-operate against terrorism. President Bush placed a congratulatory call, expressing hope that the two countries would still co-operate on fighting terrorism, while avoiding the decision to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq. Mr Blair's spokesman said the Spanish people's decision would be respected. The two leaders are not expected to meet for more than a month ­ an extraordinary delay in the context of the political alliance and close friendship forged between Mr Aznar and Mr Blair. Mr Blair and Mr Zapatero spoke by telephone yesterday in what the spokesman said was a "warm and friendly" conversation.

"It was a wide discussion but I'm not going to go over the detail of it," the spokesman said. "Mr Zapatero said his number one priority is fighting terrorism and there we agree."

But fallout from the Spanish election has emboldened Mr Blair's critics at home. Yesterday, he was accused of having increased the threat to Britain from militant Islamic terrorism by attacking Iraq.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, and Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, joined a string of Labour MPs in challenging Mr Blair's judgement and warning that Britain faced a heightened risk of attacks from al-Qa'ida.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said the war had not increased the threats facing Britain. "I do not believe we are less safe as a result of the action that we have taken," Mr Straw said. "And I believe that over the medium term, still more the long term, we will be much safer." He told the BBC: "No one should get the idea that somehow if you were a country which was opposed to the military action in Iraq, you are less of a target for al-Qa'ida and these terrible Islamic fanatics. Not at all."

But fresh fears about security in Britain were raised when it emerged that suspicious packages had been sent to four "diplomatic premises" in London yesterday ­ although last night it appeared the packages did not contain harmful material.

The Socialists are expected to take office in Spain in about a month's time, after overseas votes are counted, legislators take their seats in parliament and Mr Zapatero receives the approval of King Juan Carlos to form a government.

¿ British troops invading Iraq had such poor protective equipment that they would have faced serious casualties if Saddam Hussein had possessed chemical or biological weapons, a report declares today.

The Commons Defence Select Committee study found that logistical blunders resulted in troops lacking "critical items" such as ammunition, body armour and protective clothing. A shortage of armoured vehicle filters and nuclear, chemical and biological suits could have resulted in "severe" consequences for British soldiers if Iraq had used weapons of mass destruction.

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